It’s been so, so, so long since I wrote. Part of writing for me is figuring out what the hell is going on in my life, so if you ask me what’s been going on in my life these past months, I’ll quite honestly tell you: I have no idea. It’s like the tupperware drawer, all containers and tops that don’t fit on the containers, some stray tops from containers that never made it home from daycare, a misplaced frog magnet, beads with no strings to connect them, a day then a day then a day.
Which is not to say that these have been empty months. Quite the contrary. I’ve been surfing wave after wave of check boxes. Every to-do list is a redo of the one before and a preview of the one to come. As residency winds down, and the-easier-life-that-has-been-promised rises over the horizon, there has been so much bureaucracy to take care of: medical licensing, credentialing, job application, disability insurance, life insurance. We are are thigh-deep in a house purchase that seems likely to actually happen (super exciting! And so much work!). I continue to try to accomplish more than is possible per unit time. The endless cycle of toys going into and being dumped out of bins continues (If you want to do an interpretive dance about parenting, all you have to do is put on yesterday’s pajamas and repeatedly stoop, pretend to pickup ten small objects with your two hands, stand and pretend to put them into bins.) All of these things are good things and necessary things but also seem far from the soul somehow. What was it again that was burning in my inner hearth those many years ago? Something about transcendence and understanding what it means to be alive and being fiercely present to suffering and always feeling the beauty of the world against my skin like a hot sun?
I got an email from my insurance broker yesterday congratulating me on my successful application for life insurance. “This is great news,” it began, and I couldn’t help but snort with laughter. “This is great news!” saith the prophet in the marketplace. “She hath died, yet her ashes are now transmuted into 1.5 million dollars.” I have been trying, really trying to change my relationship with money recently. I have read, without irony, with full hope for a life transformed, such books as “Your Money or Your Life” and “Think and Grow Rich,” the latter of which is truly a masterpiece of capitalist sociopathy. I have made spreadsheets of all my expenses. I have read several books on how to get organized and have made a few lists of things I should be doing (“Organize desk area” for example, which has appeared on every one of my to-do lists since 1996). I have manged to reduce my monthly electric bill from $197 to $165 after a borderline obsessive — ok, actually obsessive — household campaign during which I overheard my three year old say to her stuffed dinosaur “It’s ok. If your hands are cold, you can just put them in your pockets.” And yet I still cannot shake the feeling that none of this matters one little bit. I want to believe that once I have purchased a home, am fully insured (health, car, disability, life), have an emergency fund totaling three months of living expenses, and have paid off my credit card debt, nirvana will open its hungry mouth and swallow me whole, but I feel farther than ever from a sense of spiritual purpose. There is only so much room in my head and when part of that empty space is occupied with questions like “I wonder if volatility in the bond market will result in higher mortgage rates tomorrow?” and “Is the light in the basement off?”, there’s just not much room left for Mary Oliver’s worn-but-still-new question, “What are you going to do with your one wild and precious life?” I feel like more of a grown-up than ever these days, but I think I might have been closest to the truth at the age of 23, when I lived for long conversations with friends over tea and I was spending 1-2 hours a day sitting on a cushion, staring at a candle and trying to empty my mind.
E and I were in the kitchen one recent evening after dinner. As I mentioned above, I’ve been trying to keep more on top of things around the house, so I try to clean up after dinner these days instead of piling all the dishes in the sink and turning out the light (n.b. this can feel almost as satisfying as cleaning). E is not such a fan — she would rather I stare into her eyes or color with her or play “I’m Elsa. You’re Anna.” So it can be a tense time, me doing dishes, which I hate, while E literally hangs off my back pockets, shrieking for my attention. I opened the freezer to assess the dinner possibilities for tomorrow and E grabbed a row of Pedialyte Pops leftover from a past illness. “Let’s have a popsicle party!” she exclaimed. I decided to be done with kitchen cleaning. E broke off a cherry pop and I broke off one of the green ones that tastes like nothing nature ever made. We sat on the couch and E stretched her legs out onto my lap and we were just sitting there for a while, sucking on our frozen rehydration solution and listening to the Paul Simon Pandora station. Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic” came on and I suddenly felt like my younger self, glowing with uncertainty and desire, waiting for something to happen. “We were born before the wind/also younger than the sun.” “What are you thinking about?” I asked E. “Dragons,” she said, without any hesitation. “Dragons and sheep.” She closed her eyes and licked her popsicle. It’s an odd experience, being so intimately bonded with a person whose cognitive world is almost totally inscrutable. Her feet starting bobbing to the music and I felt the wildness of chance that made her, the life energy that has flowed from me to her into forever. I thought about what lessons I would want my life to teach her by example: “Get good insurance”? Perhaps. But not only. Also, and much more so, “Love fiercely” and “Feel everything.” I guess it’s a matter of figuring out how to weave them together, the life of sober preparation and the life that carries you away toward an unknown destination.